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Why Do Some Children Find Language So Hard to Learn?


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Slides from talk at Institute of Education, University of Reading, January 23rd 2014

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Why Do Some Children Find Language So Hard to Learn?

  1. 1. Why do some children find language so hard to learn? Dorothy Bishop University of Oxford
  2. 2. Specific language impairment (SLI)  Language does not follow usual developmental course  Typical development in other areas  Not due to hearing loss, physical abnormality, acquired brain damage
  3. 3. Aspects of language structure  Phonology – Speech sounds  Areas of particular difficulty for many language-impaired children Sentence construction – Appropriate use of grammatical inflections – Comprehension of complex sentences “The pencil on the shoe is blue”
  4. 4. Two types of explanation  SLI as an auditory perceptual problem ba di bu da ki do  ba bi bu da di do SLI as a short-term memory problem ba di bu da ki do ba di bu da ki do
  5. 5. SLI as an auditory deficit Eisenson, J. (1972). Aphasia in children: “The aphasic child’s basic perceptual impairment [is] one for auditory perception for speech at the rate at which speech is normally presented.” Theory subsequently developed by Tallal and colleagues Tallal, P. (2003). Language learning disabilities: integrating research approaches. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 206-211.
  6. 6. Auditory temporal processing model Auditory processing deficit Problems distinguishing speech sounds Poor language learning
  7. 7. Implications for intervention   FastForWord® - computerised training – Developed by Tallal and colleagues; – Very intensive; 90 min x 5 day/wk x 6 wk – Uses speech that is modified to make brief/low intensity portions more salient Fast transitional elements amplified and stretched 7
  8. 8. FastForWord® : studies of effectiveness Meta-analysis combining results from six high-quality trials found FFW group did no better than control group Strong, G. K., et al. (2010). A systematic meta-analytic review of evidence for the effectiveness of the ‘Fast ForWord’ language intervention program. Journal of Child 8 Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(3), 224-235.
  9. 9. Might auditory manipulation still be effective?  Auditory training is only part of the FFW package  Some children who were given the intervention had no problems with auditory discrimination
  10. 10. Bishop, Rosen & Adams, 2006 Questions  Can computerised training improve comprehension in children with receptive language problems?  If so, does speech modification help?  Does child’s auditory processing status make a difference? Stuart Rosen UCL Caroline Adams Oxford Bishop, D. V. M., Adams, C. V., & Rosen, S. (2006). Resistance of grammatical impairment to computerized comprehension training in children with specific and nonspecific language impairments. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 41, 19-40.
  11. 11. Adaptive threshold estimation; unpaced presentation
  12. 12. Design of study Group S: trained with regular speech Group M: trained with modified speech Group U: untrained  Intervention – Less intensive than FFW (15 min sessions) – Only two training ‘games’: • comprehension/spelling
  13. 13. Comprehension training
  14. 14. Amount of training Normal speech group S N = 12 sessions: mean (SD) range trials: mean (SD) range Modified speech group M N = 12 14.50 (7.57) 16.00 (7.90) 6-26 6-29 1162 (847) 1162 (646) 243-2529 289-2191
  15. 15. Time 2 : retest    Average of 80 days after time 1 Same battery of standardized language tests Parallel forms used
  16. 16. TROG-2 scores 85 scaled score 80 75 70 pretest 65 posttest 60 55 50 Group S N = 12 Group M N = 12 Group U N=9 drop-out N=3 • All groups improved; • No effect of training or speech modification • Improvement unrelated to amount of training • Improvement unrelated to initial auditory scores
  17. 17. Comprehension training  Examination of learning in the grammar game  Children tended to get stuck at a level of 8090% correct on constructions such as above/below; active/passive  i.e. performance is not at chance, but children seem unable to get to automatic correct understanding
  18. 18. What have we learned?  Many children with receptive language disorders don’t have the auditory processing problems postulated by Tallal’s theory  No relationship between auditory impairment and learning  On a task that doesn’t tax auditory perception, learning occurs but it is very slow
  19. 19. Hsu & Bishop New study looking at learning processes in SLI 20 Julie Hsu
  20. 20. Ullman & Pierpont, 2005 The Procedural Deficit hypothesis
  21. 21. Ullman & Pierpont, 2005 The Procedural Deficit hypothesis • Evidence for two brain systems: declarative and procedural • Declarative learning implicated in learning arbitrary associations – inc. vocabulary Procedural learning implicated in learning of syntax and phonology: • • • Learning is unconscious/automatic Rule learning
  22. 22. SLI: Predictions from procedural deficit hypothesis • Relatively unimpaired in verbal and nonverbal paired-associate learning • Sequential learning deficits for verbal and nonverbal materials 1 4 2 2 4 1 3 1 4 2 2 4 1 3 1 4 2 2 4 1 3 …. Ullman, M. T., & Pierpont, E. I. (2005). Specific language impairment is not specific to language: The procedural deficit hypothesis. Cortex, 41, 399-433.
  23. 23. Current study: participants 48 children with SLI (7-11 yrs) (2 subgroups) 20 age-matched typically-developing children 28 language-matched* typically-developing children (4-6 yrs) Matched on language comprehension test 24
  24. 24. Paired-associate learning 25
  25. 25. Nonverbal paired-associate learning • Same as vocabulary task except learn to associate meaningless sounds/patterns Work in progress, please do not quote! 26
  26. 26. Work in progress, please do not quote! • Noisy data – hard task, but clear learning • No main effect of group; SLI and age-matched equivalent 27
  27. 27. Paired associate learning: vocabulary • 8 new words; 3 times each within a training session • Presentation of all 8 items before training started • Same game format – put the named item in the robot’s tummy 28
  28. 28. Work in progress, please do not quote! • SLI learning RATE is same as control groups • Initial level lower than age-matched, equivalent to language-matched 29
  29. 29. Sentence comprehension training (spatial prepositions) Training Half the children trained with above/below and the rest with before/after 4 training sessions (5 mins each) 30
  30. 30. Reversible prepositions Learning for children scoring < 90% session 1 Work in progress, please do not quote! N = 15 N = 16 Main effect of group is not significant Significant interaction of session x group 31
  31. 31. Additional feature of study  Inclusion of items where entire sentence repeated: to see if child rote-learns meaning – e.g. item A is “the apple is above the chair” 32
  32. 32. Reversible prepositions Learning for children scoring < 90% session 1 Work in progress, please do not quote! • SLI significantly better with repeated items on trials 2-3 • No effect of repeated items in language-matched group 33
  33. 33. No transfer of training to TROG-2 Children scoring < 90% session 1 Pre-test Post-test TROG-2 blocks passed Pre-test Post-test Work in progress, please do not quote! Language-controls SLI 34
  34. 34. Predictors of learning: preposition task Work in progress, please do not quote! Zero-order r Variable Nonword repetition Word span Age (yr) -.20 .16 .14 .20 .08 .32* .33* .16 -.06 .35* .47** .34** .48** .37** Nonword rep. Word span Score day 1 Score day 1 Score day 4  R2 = .35 Bottom line: • Nonword repetition & word span predict day 1 performance 35 • Day 1 performance and word span predict day 4 performance
  35. 35. Conclusion • Key deficit in SLI: learning to extract sequential information from serial input, whether verbal or nonverbal* • Limited short-term memory, rather than perceptual problems, seems a key problem for many children • Learning does occur, though seems reliance on rotelearning, rather than pattern extraction * Nonverbal sequences not covered in this talk: see Hsu, H. J., & Bishop, D. V. M. (2014). Sequence-specific procedural learning deficits in children with specific language impairment. Developmental Science, in press. doi: 10.1111/desc.12125 36
  36. 36. Raising Awareness of Language Learning Impairments